Preventing COVID-19 and respiratory diseases | Daily News

Preventing COVID-19 and respiratory diseases

The world started to suffer from COVID-19 at the end of 2019 and it hit Sri Lanka in early 2020.   

Sri Lanka very successfully controlled the disease with one of the world’s speediest vaccination drives and saved the entire population from COVID-19 by giving priority to protecting the people’s lives. While the people living in other countries were dying and begging for COVID-19 vaccines from their Governments, the then Government and health authorities begged Sri Lankans to get vaccinated after offering them world class COVID-19 vaccines islandwide and to their door steps free of charge. This is how Sri Lanka saved the population from COVID-19.

The Sri Lankan people were concerned about obtaining the vaccine only during the first and second phase and thereafter they did not show much enthusiasm in obtaining vaccines.   

They were eager to obtain the Pfizer vaccine when the health authorities commenced its distribution from certain areas of the country but when it was available islandwide for all eligible ages, the people did not demand it as before and did not take their due dose which is the booster doses.  

But unfortunately now once again COVID-19 has started to raise its ugly head globally and several countries have already been hit by the latest variants of the COVID-19 which is BF.7 and XBB.1.5, the sub-variants of Omicron of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. It is described that the most transmissible variant of concern (VOC) to date is XBB. 1.5.   

According to Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Samitha Ginige, it is the sub variants of Omicron that are doing the rounds now and there are two variants, BF.7 and XBB.1.5. A gradual decline trend in the world was visible during the last few weeks when compared with December. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not identified and declared those two sub variants as ‘Variants Of Concern’ because the number of deaths, hospitalizations, complications and severity of the disease are not that much reported according to the available data.  

I do not say that there is no threat to Sri Lanka at all. There is a threat as usual. It is the same with all the other diseases. During the last four months we had a very good control of COVID-19 with less than ten or 20 patients detected on a daily basis, one death or no deaths per day etc. But the challenge is still there, Dr. Ginige said.  

Our guard against COVID-19 no matter what new variant is appearing is vaccination. Sri Lanka achieved very successful results when controlling COVID-19 in the past due to the very successful vaccination drive and almost all eligible people received the first two initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. But the third dose which is the first booster dose has only been taken by less than a half of the eligible population which is above the age of 20. Not even a half of the eligible population had obtained the first booster dose.  

Now the Sinopharm vaccine is available at all State hospitals and MOHs and people can visit them and obtain them at any time they wish. The eligible people who did not receive the third dose should go to their nearest State hospital of the MOH and obtain the vaccine. The fourth dose which is the second booster dose should be obtained by all those above 60 years and especially the people who have comorbidities. The very few number of deaths which are reported now is from people who are above the age of 60 and have not completed their vaccination.   

Deaths, hospitalizations and complications caused by any variant can be reduced and controlled only through vaccination and vaccination is the most effective way.  

It is a very good habit to wear a mask, especially by the people who are suffering from flu-like symptoms and the people who are in a high risk category with comorbidities. Wearing a mask is not mandatory but they should protect themselves when they visit crowded places, public places, using public transport etc. Wearing a mask protects people from COVID-19 and all the other respiratory diseases, he added.   

How to wear a mask properly;  

* Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.  

* Cover both the mouth and nose with a mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Do not wear the mask below your nose.  

* Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water before touching or adjusting your mask.  

* Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not reuse single-use masks.  

* To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.  

* Various types of masks can be purchased in the market. The best mask to prevent COVID-19 is KN95 mask. The price of a surgical mask is very low now. Any mask is effective for healthy people to protect themselves from respiratory diseases.   

There are many things that can be done very easily by ordinary people in order to prevent COVID-19 and all the other respiratory diseases.  

* Stay at home whenever you feel sick, especially down with a cold or flu like systems.  

* Wear masks when going out from home or at least when travelling in public transport and visiting public places, crowded places, enclosed buildings or poorly ventilated buildings.   

* Cover mouth and nose with bent elbow or tissue whenever cough or sneeze without a mask. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. Wash handkerchiefs with soap and water before re-use.  

* Keep a distance of one metre or so with another person whenever possible.  

* Wash hands with soap and water especially before touching above the neck. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds. Use a standard hand sanitizer whenever soap and water are not available to clean hands.  

* Refrain from spitting in public places, crowded places, especially on roads, bus stands, railway stations, etc.  

WHO updated guidelines  

The WHO has updated its guidelines on mask wearing in community settings, COVID-19 treatments, and clinical management. This is part of a continuous process of reviewing such materials, working with guideline development groups composed of independent, international experts who consider the latest available evidence and the changing epidemiology.  

Masks continue to be a key tool   

The WHO continues to recommend the use of masks by the public in specific situations, and this update recommends their use irrespective of the local epidemiological situation, given the current spread of the COVID-19 globally. Masks are recommended following a recent exposure to COVID-19, when someone has or suspects they have COVID-19, when someone is at high-risk of severe COVID-19, and for anyone in a crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated space. Previously, WHO recommendations were based on the epidemiological situation.  

Similar to previous recommendations, the WHO advises that there are other instances when a mask may be suggested, based on a risk assessment. Factors to consider include the local epidemiological trends or rising hospitalization levels, levels of vaccination coverage and immunity in the community, and the setting people find themselves in.  

Reduced isolation period   

The WHO advises that a COVID-19 patient can be discharged from isolation early if they test negative on an antigen-based rapid test.  

Without testing, for patients with symptoms, the new guidelines suggest 10 days of isolation from the date of symptom onset. Previously, the WHO advised that patients be discharged 10 days after symptom onset, plus at least three additional days since their symptoms had resolved.  

For those who test positive for COVID-19 but do not show any signs or symptoms, the WHO now suggests five days of isolation in the absence of testing, compared to 10 days previously.  

Isolation of people with COVID-19 is an important step in preventing others from being infected. This can be done at home or at a dedicated facility, such as a hospital or clinic.  

The evidence considered by the guideline development group showed that people without symptoms are much less likely to transmit the virus than those with symptoms. Although of very low certainty, evidence also showed that people with symptoms discharged at day five following symptom onsets risked infecting three times more people than those discharged at day 10.  


What is XBB.1.5?

XBB.1.5 is a sub-variant of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Omicron strain, the most transmissible variant of concern (VOC) to date.

WHO sources said XBB.1.5 is the ‘most transmissible sub variant detected yet’. The reasons for this are the mutations that are within this sub variant of Omicron allowing this virus to adhere to the cell and replicate easily.

Symptoms of the sub variant are similar to previous Omicron strains including congestion, runny nose and fever.

According to health experts like its parent XBB, Kraken has strong immune evasive properties compared with previous Omicron sub-lineages.

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